Avatar -> Persona

Posted in idea on December 20, 2009 by minervalee

The early impulse to put your entire self out in public has begun to give way to “reputation management”.  The teenagers of the ‘Oughts (or ‘Naughts) started their journey with reality TV and Friendster, where more information is good, and showing as much of yourself as frequently as possible is the key to self-definition and being post-modern (i.e. “cool”).  Even though it’s arguable that Twitter shows the desire for constant self-exposure to complete strangers is still climbing  (i.e. little bit of self posted instantly), the December 2009 Facebook privacy setting blowup suggests that at least some circles are starting to pull back a bit.  This leads to the idea of “Avatar”, James Cameron’s new movie, vs. persona, a possibility that I predict for the coming decade.


An avatar, in the digital world, is an extension of oneself – particular in the fantasy, gamer, gearhead sense, it allows an individual to become better than they are in real life.  See The Guild’s parody video, “Do You Want To Date My Avatar?”

The chorus crystallizes the attraction of any avatar: “Do you want to date my avatar?  She’s a star.  And she’s hotter than reality by far…”  The same sense of possibility appears in Cameron’s movie “Avatar”, in which a paraplegic former Marine can not only experience walking, but flying, something his uninjured body could never do.

Although less obvious as a fantasy, the public presence an individual manufactures through social networking sites is carefully crafted as an avatar.  A college student on Facebook shows himself chugging beers surrounded by buddies, or wearing a glamorous or skimpy outfit ready for a party, not [insert experience without social point value] – in fact, I’d bet money that most profile pictures for college-aged users fall into these categories.  That is, until it’s time to look for a job and anxious parents and Career Center counselors start talking about how “everyone can see” your profile and those pictures should probably be buried.  It seems like every month a new study comes out talking about how many more employers use Facebook and Twitter to check out potential job candidates.  While Web 2.0 marches on, human resources remain in the age of single personality, in which a person needs to present themselves as acceptable on ALL fronts, or at least have the discretion to suppress the dirtier aspects from the public eye.  Tiger Woods, anyone?

[Newsweek Cover – “Why We Can’t Look Away: Understanding Our Craven Celebrity Culture”]

Or “Mad Men”, or “The Tudors” – in fiction we’ve become fascinated with the distance between professional image and the seedy reality, as long as it’s buried safely in a period peace.


This is all to say, how will the next decade deal with these conflicting impulses, the desire to expose all of oneself and the long-standing impulse to look at people as simple, solid creatures?  I think the avatar, as an extension of self, is going to slowly give way to the persona, more specifically personae, a fracturing of self.

It’s not uncommon for performers to have a real name and a “stage name”.  Acting was associated with exposure and shame, and having a stage name provides public distance.  Making a public persona distinctive makes it easy for the audience to distinguish between the actor and the private individual.  These days, in which everyone is a public performer, we may have to adopt the theater technique of persona.  The web makes it easy to make up a persona.  But why stop at two, public and private?  Let’s have a different face for work, friends, family, total strangers… and let’s ratify them in code.


Living Stories at GoogleLabs

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2009 by minervalee

In conjunction with the New York Times and Washington Post, Google just launched Living Stories as “an experiment in presenting news… specifically for the online environment”.  Here’s the link:  http://www.livingstories.googlelabs.com/.

I’m truly perplexed about what these papers were trying to achieve.

According to the Post, the project was inspired by the new way that people read news.  Folks go to online news aggregators like Google News instead of a newspaper’s website because they want up-to-date information on specific stories.  The hope seems to be that by allowing Google to host ongoing stories by the Post and the Times, those who go to Google News will be redirected back towards some version the newspapers.

Living Stories seems looks like a haphazard reaction to several sources of panic: the end of print journalism as a medium, and of the newspaper as an institution of authority and a business model; and the supposed desire of audiences for short bursts of around-the-clock information.  It doesn’t organize its news as well as each paper’s own subject webpages, nor does it combine stories from various papers like a aggregator.

The redirect takes Google out of the competition, but it doesn’t provide an improved product.

“Hamlet” in Utero

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2009 by minervalee

The Shakespeare Quartos prototype archive just launched, using Hamlet as its test case (see Blogroll).  At present, the Archives includes 32 copies of the five earliest editions of Hamlet, providing digital images of every page of these 32 plays as well as transcriptions so you can compare the texts

To understand the import of this site, you have to get rid of a key idea about Shakespeare: that there was a One True Text of  Shakespeare’s plays (ex. Hamlet):

If Shakespeare kept a single Perfect manuscript of any one of his plays, we don’t have it anymore.  All we have is printed copies, and you could spend an entire semester (ahem) learning how many people interposed their greasy, inky fingerprints between Shakespeare and your copy.

Shakespeare's only surviving play manuscript: his additions to "Sir Thomas More" by Anthony Munday, c. 1596.

Secondly, it’s extremely unlikely that, if we could we travel back to Shakespeare’s time, there would be a One True Text  for us to find.  The Elizabethan plays were theatrical documents, and playwrights continuously reworked them to keep up with changing audiences, troupe members, and topicality of the subject matter.  If we jumped on Shakespeare the day Hamlet hit the boards in 1599-1602, he’d probably give us at least three editions that could all validly answer to the name, early editions that have now been enshrined in the First Quarto (Q1), the Second Quarto (Q2) and the Folio (F or F1).

So… the  Shakespeare Quarto Archives captures graphically what we still have trouble grasping instinctually: the actual multiplicity of What Shakespeare Wrote.

Wanted: A Shorter Subtitle

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 by minervalee

Let’s see if a paragraph will do.

The biggest technological innovation in Western culture was the invention of the Gutenberg movable-type press (c. 1455 CE).  William Caxton printed the first book in England in 1477 CE, ushering in the early modern period, which exploded a century later in the English Renaissance, or age of Shakespeare.  No device has so drastically altered the landscape of thought, culture, and humanities… until Web 2.0.

We are living in the second Renaissance.  Let’s see what happens next.